Library and Archives Canada is typically a place for quiet research, but there was no need to "shush" anyone Tuesday as it held a ceremony and cocktail reception to celebrate the launch of its new charitable foundation and the presentation of its first LAC Scholars Awards to five distinguished Canadians.
The event was held under the patronage of former prime minister Jean Chrétien, who was on hand with Guy Berthiaume, Canada's chief librarian and archivist, and Ottawa lawyer Jacques Shore, chair of the new LAC Foundation. Following the ceremony, the 140 guests were invited to tour the federal institute's free new exhibit, Prime Ministers and the Arts.
The foundation has been created to support Library and Archives Canada — one of the biggest libraries in the world — in making its vast collection more accessible to Canadians and to raise money for initiatives and partnerships that can help grow and preserve it.
“Library and Archives Canada is the home of Canada’s historical and cultural treasures, and this vast collection is a magnificent tribute to our past and a foundation of knowledge on which to build our future,” Shore, a partner at Gowling WLG’s Ottawa office, said at the podium. “The foundation’s goal is to enhance the visibility of LAC and to position it as a creative force in our cultural environment.”
Awards were given to: Radio-Canada broadcast journalist Marie-Louise Arsenault, historian Ronald I. Cohen (author of the Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill as well as the donor of his own extensive collection of Lucy Maud Montgomery materials), award-winning novelist Lawrence Hill, writer Frances Itani, of acclaimed book Deafening, and CBC Radio's Shelagh Rogers, host of The Next Chapter. She delivered her acceptance speech from Vancouver.
They were all recognized for their significant contributions to Canadian culture, literature and historical knowledge.
In their brief acceptance speeches, the recipients spoke of how valuable the LAC materials have been to their historical research, how important it was that historical truths be documented and how grateful they were to LAC librarians for their sharing of expertise and knowledge.
“I can assure you the last thing any self-respecting immigrant to Canada wants — and my parents were both immigrants to Canada — is to see their son or daughter become a novelist,” joked Hill, author of The Book of Negroes and The Illegal, upon accepting his award.
He recalled being taken regularly as a young child by his father to the Don Mills Public Library in Toronto’s North York area to read books that would lead him toward a professional path.
“He reassured me it wasn’t necessary for me to read every single one, but I should try and read most of them.”
All ears were open for Chrétien as the Liberals’ most beloved elder statesman took part in a brief Q&A with Berthiaume. This upcoming Monday marks 56 years since Chrétien was first elected to office on April 8, 1963. During his 40 years on the Hill, he held various cabinet posts in Pierre Trudeau’s government before rising to prime minister, a position he held for 10 years from 1993 to 2003.
When asked whether he'd do it all again — in this day and age — Chrétien immediately and emphatically responded: “I would do it.”
Chrétien, 85, talked about the “comfortable” relationship he had as a politician with the news media, recognizing that he and reporters had their own jobs to do. He had a favourite line he liked to tell journalists when they were disparaging toward him: “If you’re so smart, just run against me next time.”
He spoke of his enjoyment of Question Period in the House of Commons in the days before the reading of speaking notes, and of how he’s opposed to the concept of parachuting in star candidates. They should earn their position the old-fashioned way by pounding the pavement and drumming up support, he said.
“I want everybody to go in the street and shake hands with the guy that votes for you and be responsible to them. Too many guys would like to get in by the back door. It’s better to get in by the front door."
It may mean running the risk of losing, but, he added encouragingly, “I managed to survive.”
There’s a museum in Chrétien’s hometown of Shawinigan that showcases hundreds of gifts from around the world given to him by heads of state or government officials while he was performing his official duties as PM. The items are meant to highlight the importance of international relations and reveal the dialogue of different cultures.
Later, Chrétien hammed it up by giving his famous "Shawinigan handshake" to consultant and author Bob Plamondon, who was recently named by the Ontario government to the OPTrust (OPSEU Pension Trust) board.
Other members of the LAC Foundation board are: former Carleton University president Roseann Runte, who's now head of the Canada Foundation for Innovation; Simon & Schuster Canada president and publisher Kevin Hanson; former Maclean’s and National Post editor Kenneth Whyte, who has created a new book-publishing company, The Sutherland House; The Walrus magazine publisher Shelley Ambrose; Michael Adams, a veteran in the banking and financial services industry; former Twitter Canada managing director Rory Capern, now with Pelmorex Corp.; Quebecor senior vice-president Serge Sasseville; and Robert Ghiz, former premier of Prince Edward Island.